Rafe Totengco: Travelling Man

by Melissa Goldstein

THE DOSSIER: NAME: Rafé Totengco. TRADE: Creative Director of handbags for Jones Group. VIBE: Art salon with an eastern bent. ABODE: Pre-war apartment in Chelsea's London Terrace building, New York.

"This is exactly as I envisioned my New York to be," Rafé Totengco tells us when we visit his pre-war home in Chelsea's plush '30s apartment building London Terrace. The Negros-born Filipino accessories designer moved in three years ago. "It was a rite of passage," he says of the jump from his former neighbourhood in Murray Hill to his current one. "And I even have a patisserie on the corner where they know my morning coffee and croissant order," he adds, with the satisfaction of someone who has found their holy grail.

WORLDLY GOODS Totengco's collection of art forms the backbone of the flat's décor scheme, and it reads like his extensive passport. The pair of Miró lithographs? From an inaugural trip to Barcelona. The watercolors of Kabuki performers? Discovered at a flea market on his first visit to Kyoto. And the symbol-laden pastel? A purchase made at Porte de Vanves flea market on his debut jaunt to Paris. "I bought it from a pre-op artist--the skull represents her death as a woman," he giggles.

HANG TIME The apartment is a veritable shrine to wanderlust, but this place of worship is intended to entice you to stay a while; the seagrass wallpaper in the designer's bedroom was selected for its cosy, natural feel, the teak floor mats in the bathroom for their warmth. Even the living room furniture has been curated to invite guests to linger over Totengco's breathless travelogues. "It's a nice height for conversation--low enough that you can just lounge," he says of the mother-of-pearl-inlaid Egyptian chair that he had upholstered in a leafy Lulu DK fabric. A Bertoia Bird Chair set with a typographic pillow from good friend "Jonny" Adler is its modern counterpoint: "It envelops you," he says.

DARK INTENTIONS Totengco's bedroom is a dandified collision of rich textiles and mid-century touches in a neutral spectrum. "I'm drawn to browns and dark shades of charcoal, so no matter what I do, things end up coming together," he says. And with its ornate coverlet commissioned in Rajasthan, India, hand-woven Lombok ikat throw bought in Bali and zebra needlepoint pillow by Dransfield & Ross, Totengco's velvet-upholstered bed proves his colour theory right.

BACK IN TIME A vintage Danish credenza plays host to a selection of family heirlooms including a Japanese kabuki figure passed down from Totengco's grandfather and a jade elephant brought back from Thailand by Totengco's mother, whom he credits for his keen eye and penchant for backstory. "She's always loved antiques," he says, noting the collection of Filipino Santos in the kitchen that come from his family home in the Philippines. "I think that's why everything I own has a history; I want it to mean something."



Vintage Danish Chairs
Baxter & Liebchen
Custom Sofa
Componibili Storage Unit
"Porcupine" (#50130-10) Upholstery
on Danish Chairs
Lulu DK
Sofa Upholstery
"Yates" Bed
Mitchell Gold
Bertoia Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Hive Modern
Coat Rack
Horseman Antiques
Eames Chair


Photographs: Justin Coit 

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